Refugees break her heart, harden resolve to help

A refugee camp in her native Pakistan inspires Penn Stater to initiate change

Penn State Abington student Ayra Siddiq wants to develop a mechanism to fund education for children in refugee camps such as the one she visited in Pakistan. Credit: Ayra SiddiqAll Rights Reserved.

While home in Pakistan to see her family, Ayra Siddiq visited a refugee camp just outside the country's capital. The Penn State Abington sophomore was stunned by the living conditions, and she left determined to help the population develop skills and improve their lives.

"They live in mud houses with minimal access to running water, proper kitchen, sewage, electricity — all things we take for granted," she said. "The winters near the mountains are harsh."

She described a patriarchal society and children with no access to education.

"The culture is so different. There is no radio, newspaper or television," Siddiq said. "They live in a bubble, especially women and children. They don't really see outside of their environment."

"When you have no money, no education, no way to prove your worth to the world — it breaks my heart," the film and economics major, said. "I want to give them tools they need to live a better life."

Ayra Siddiq met a refugee camp resident who had lived there since leaving Afghanistan in the 1980s. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Siddiq returned to Abington with a deeper and broader view of the world. She served on the leadership team of the International Cultural Alliance on campus, sharing her experience with audiences. She implored students to examine media portrayals critically and dig into current events and historical context.

"Most refugees have nothing to do with the turmoil and havoc that extremists and fundamentalists have burdened on their country," she said. "Refugees are a product of war, and they, unfortunately, pay the price."

"This issue does not have an easy solution," she continued. "But I hope that our generation can become the leaders the world needs to help those in need."

Siddiq said her education in the United States and the Philippines helps her appreciate and encourage connections between cultures. It also helped her realize several paths to help achieve her goals.

"I'd like to produce movies concerning social issues of Pakistan and the Philippines, the two countries I call home," said Siddiq, who transferred to the University Park campus recently. "With my economics degree, I'd like to pursue humanitarian work and possibly international law."

Ayra Siddiq said being educated in the Philippines and the United States made her realize the value of intercultural bonds.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons


Last Updated March 24, 2016